After days trapped in a tunnel, workers wait for a rescue plan B | ET REALITY


Four days after 40 workers were trapped in a road tunnel in the Himalayas, Indian authorities on Thursday were still trying to find a way through the rubble and rescue them, while distraught relatives and colleagues protested outside to demand faster action.

Workers were stranded on Sunday about 500 feet from the tunnel entrance after landslides in the northern Indian state of Uttarakhand caused a partial collapse. Communication was cut, leaving the men waiting inside, not knowing what would happen.

In the hours that followed, officials established contact with workers by sending radios through an intact pipe into the tunnel. Later, a larger pipe, 35 inches in diameter, was inserted through the debris to deliver food, water and oxygen with the help of compressors. Authorities have said the men are safe inside the tunnel.

Authorities put dozens of rescuers to work 24 hours a day to remove debris using drilling equipment and excavators. But they abandoned those efforts after a heavy drilling machine failed to create an escape passage, and the drill caused more debris to fall into the tunnel, said Arpan Yaduvanshi, a police officer in Uttarkashi district, the site of the operations. rescue.

Indian officials said Thursday they were trying a different tactic, working to deploy an advanced machine that could cut through debris. “We are inserting steel pipes into the rubble to create a passage for workers to get out,” said Ranjit Sinha, a senior disaster management official in Uttarkashi. The plan was for the men to crawl through the pipe, avoiding the problem of falling debris.

The high-powered auger drilling machine was being assembled after being transported by an Indian Air Force plane from New Delhi. The machine will cut through debris at more than twice the speed of the previous drilling machine, officials said, adding that they hoped to reach workers on Friday.

India sought advice on the operation from a Thailand-based company that helped rescue children from a flooded cave there in 2018. Officials said they were also in touch with engineering experts at the Norwegian Geotechnical Institute.

Uttarakhand attracts hundreds of thousands of Hindu pilgrims every year and has also become a major tourist attraction. In recent years, the mountain state has seen a boom in building and road construction.

The trapped workers were building part of a motorable road intended to provide quicker access to four Hindu shrines. The construction was taking place on a landscape that has become increasingly fragile for large development projects as glaciers rapidly melt.

Environmentalists and experts appointed by India’s top court have criticized the federal government for going ahead with the project despite their ecological concerns. Throughout the year, landslides and flooding caused by heavy rains caused large-scale damage to infrastructure, killing dozens and leveling entire villages.

In January, authorities relocated hundreds of people after a temple collapsed and cracks appeared in a large number of houses due to land subsidence in and around the town of Joshimath in Uttarakhand.

Most of the workers trapped in the tunnel are migrant workers from states hundreds of miles away. Those whose relatives live nearby have been camping at the site and talking to relatives through portable radios. State government officials said they were in contact with other families.

Colleagues of trapped workers protesting outside the tunnel said they feared for their well-being after five days of confinement.

“We want them to leave as soon as possible,” said Lokesh Rathori, a construction worker. “They will die there soon.”

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